I’ve been feeling very Grinchy about the holidays. Even though I’ve built traditions I love, even though it’s fun to experience things anew with children, even though I am enjoying dance parties at night to the Mariah Carey Christmas album – still, when I think CHRISTMAS IS COMING it’s with a shudder. I wish we could flash forward to January.
I’ve been giving this some deeper thought. The other day as I was dragging my feet on taking my two kids to get a Christmas tree, I asked myself: what is it I don’t like about this? Why do I feel like I have to do it, like it’s not my choice?
I didn’t have time in that moment to write anything down, but I started to think about what is on my YES list for the holidays, and what’s on my NO list.
It’s very simple, a YES NO list. You can do it for anything and I find it useful for things I have mixed feelings about – to sort out what I do and do not want – to clarify what exactly I’m feeling hesitant or grumpy or meh about, and what makes me jump with joy and smile from ear to ear. If I’m not feeling excited about something, why is it on my YES list? Can I move it to the NO list, or change something to make it a solid YES?
I started thinking about what’s on my holiday NO list as I was wrangling the kids into coats and boots and carseats, and so many things popped into my mind: last minute stress shopping, sitting on Santa’s lap, a naughty and nice list, the film Love Actually, plastic, disposable stocking stuffers. I had to dredge up things for the YES list: okaaaaaaay, the Nutcracker. Warm cozy socks and slippers. Candles. The smell of a real tree.
I thought about that, the smell of a tree. Yes, that is why I like having a real tree, that is why we’re heading out into the freezing rain right now. And as it turned out, we had a blast, picking out a little tree that fit in the trunk of our car, driving home with soaking wet coats and hats and the smell of pine in the car. Getting it home and dragging it inside and draping it in shiny beads and orbs and lights while drinking hot cocoa. (The part where my toddler knocked down the tree is a topic for another day).
This morning when I sat down to write down my list, I was surprised to find that I had an overflowing number of ideas for my YES list. Watching The Big Lebowski! Tamales! Cozy pajamas! Homemade cookies! Believing in the possibility of magic and things you can’t explain! Secret gifts! Surprises!
The things on my NO list are small but clear – anything that pulls me into obligation, perfectionism, pressure, fake magic and fake crap. As a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser it is very easy for me to focus all my energy on making everyone happy, doing things “right,” getting the perfect gift for every single person and getting it to them on time. And if I don’t, THAT IS HORRIBLE and they will never forgive me and Christmas will be ruined.
I can choose to believe that. Or I can slow down and notice when I’m having those thoughts, and take a breath. Hello, holiday troll. Hello ridiculous expectations, I see you’ve creeped in again. Am I ruining Christmas?
I can choose to believe in a Christmas that is not consumed with meeting ridiculous self-imposed expectations. I can show my love to people in the ways that mean something to me. I can choose to opt out of stress and panic and perfection. I can talk to my kids about Santa in a way that feels right to me. I can choose to stay out of the mall on Christmas Eve. I can choose to only watch Love Actually if I want to feel a rousing, invigorating tide of righteous fury wash over me. (This is also a post for another time though really, Lindy West said it best…)
Of course Love Actually, the apex of cynically vacant faux-motional cash-grab garbage cinema would hang its BIG METAPHOR on the bleak, empathy-stripped cathedral of turgid bureaucracy known as “the airport.” Of course.
It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and sucked in, to feel dominated and overloaded and swept along in a helpless plastic current of holiday cheer. So for me, it’s helpful to remind myself that I can step out of that fake river. I can celebrate what matters to me. I can connect to people how I want. I can give my energy to the things I like and release the things I don’t.
Yeah! Look at that, my Grinch heart is growing! YES!